Buyers bid for tobacco at an auction in Wilson, N.C. File photo by the editor.
In South Carolina,only 10 to 15 percent of the crop was still in the field when Dorian arrived on September 6, says William Hardee, S.C. area Extension agronomy agent for Horry, Marion and Dillon Counties. "There was not much blowing off of leaves, but there was a lot of overripening due to the plant's production of ethylene." Farmers tried to harvest and barn what they could, but Hardee predicts that three quarters of the tobacco that was in the field wil be abandoned.
In North Carolina, leaf is deteriorating quickly in areas struck by Dorian. Farmers are harvesting as fast as they can. One observer predicted that all harvestable to-bacco will be out of the field by October 1, several weeks earlier than it has in recent years. "We needed four or five weeks," said our source. The worst damage was east and south of Ral-eigh. There was some damage in the northeast but considerably less.
In the Piedmont, there was hardly any effect of Dorian, says Dennis White, owner of Old Belt Tobacco Sales, Rural Hall, N.C. "As a matter of fact, we still need water." He estimates that harvest is half complete in his area.
50 million pounds loss in N.C.? The Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina estimated the crop loss caused by Dorian in N.C. at 50 million pounds. That is based on the estimate that 60 percent of the crop remained in the field when the storm arrived and that 25 to 30 percent was destroyed or rendered unmarketable.
The effect on the market? "The
demand is soft--there is too much production world wide, and our U.S. leaf is challenged by the strong dollar relative to global options," said the statement from TGANC. "We very likely had over produced our domestic acres already, so the 50 million destroyed in the storm brings us closer to actual demand. That isn't to say we would not have sold the entire larger crop, but at what prices?"
Auction report: Leaf grades have not begun arriving in any volume at the flue-cured auction warehouses, and there has been grower disappointment with prices bid for some lugs. Cutters have reportedly sold fairly well. There is optimism that any high-quality tobacco offered for sale from here on may command good prices as a result of the Dorian damage.
September Crop Report--Production estimates continue downward: In a survey completed before Dorian arrived, USDA predicted in its September Crop Report that flue-cured production would total 304 million pounds, down three percent from last month and 10 percent from 2018. Burley production was expected to total 96.0 million pounds, down nine percent from the last month and four percent from last year. Among the individual states, with percentage change from 2018:
North Carolina, 236 million pounds, down six percent.·
Virginia, 33 million pounds down 21 percent.·
Georgia, 18 million pounds down 33 percent.·
South Carolina, 17 million pounds, down 23 percent.
Kentucky, 81 million pounds, up two percent.
Tennessee, 6.4 million pounds, down 29 percent.
Pennsylvania, 6 million pounds, down 31 percent.
Virginia, 1.26 million pounds, down 16 percent.
North Carolina, 640, 000 pounds, down 43 percent.
Fire-cured, 46.7 million pounds, down 20 percent.
Dark air-cured, 28 million pounds, up 7.7 percent.
Pennsylvania seedleaf, 5 million pounds, down nine percent.
Southern Maryland/Pennsylvania, 2.2 million pounds, down 28 percent.
A farmer cuts and spears his burley tobacco in a field in western North Carolina a few miles from the Tennessee border. File photo by Chris Bickers.
The beginning of flue-cured auctions was a bit anticlimactic, thanks to limited offerings from farmers. At the Old Belt Tobacco auction in Rural Hall, N.C., Owner Dennis White had to delay his first sale from August 27 to September 3 because he didn't have enough volume to justify opening. But there is plenty on his floor now, and he is looking forward to next Tuesday's sale. "This is the best floor I have ever seen. It has a good orange color, and the lugs have the body that the trade demands."
Three warehouses opened in or near Wilson, N.C., on August 21 and had a second sale on the 28th. Horizon Manager Kenneth Kelly says the lugs that made up most of the offerings on his floor didn't attract much interest from buyers. "It has been a challenge," he says. But he has grounds for optimism. "When we have had lugs with color and some body, the sale has picked up."
Harvest is going full throttle in the Piedmont, says Dennis White. "I think most farmers have been over their crop one time already. "
Where harvest is running ahead: Progress report from USDA-NASS--Through August 25, flue-cured harvest in Georgia was 67 percent complete, in South Carolina 79 percent complete, in North Carolina 36 percent and in Virginia 51 percent complete. Among burley states, harvest in Kentucky is 24 percent complete, in Tennessee 20 percent complete, and in North Carolina 11 percent complete. Also, in Kentucky, 92 percent of the crop was blooming by the 25th, and 75 percent was topped. In Tennessee, 66 percent was topped by that date.
One of several surprises in the USDA's crop report two weeks ago was the projection that Kentucky's burley crop would amount to 90 million pounds, up 12.7 percent from last season. But Bob Pearce, Kentucky Extension tobacco specialist, says 90 million pounds may not be too far off. "It is not our best crop ever, but it is a fair crop overall."
Correction: The listing for North Carolina burley in the report on USDA's August Crop Report in the August II issue should have read "NC--720,000 pounds, down 36 percent."
The value of irrigation was clear in North Carolina this year, says Matthew Vann, N.C. Extension tobacco specialist. In many situations it might have paid for itself in one season. "But that would have been a very hard sell with as many challenges as there are in the tobacco market and general ag sector right now."
Angular leafspot was the worst its been since 2016 in the dark-producing areas of Kentucky and Tennessee, says Andy Bailey, Extension dark tobacco specialist for those two states. "Some farmers have tried a copper oxide product called Nordox for the first time," says Bailey. "But the control you get with it is just fair." Dry weather in the first two or three weeks of August helped suppress angular leafspot more than anything farmers could have sprayed, Bailey says.
Could the Black Patch be the best place to grow Connecticut broadleaf? Users of Connecticut Broadleaf, one of the two types of cigar tobacco traditionally grown in the Northeast, have been looking for new areas to grow the type, with Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee getting a chance to show how well suited they are to producing the type. It seems to be doing very well in Kentucky and Tennessee. That may in part be because broadleaf is primarily grown for wrapper leaf for cigars, and the Black Patch growers have plenty of experience growing wrapper leaves.
In fact, the practices for Connecticut broadleaf wrappers are very much like those for Kentucky-Tennessee dark wrappers, says Bailey. "Broadleaf is not planted extremely early, maybe mid-May. Once in the field, it is about two week earlier than dark air-cured." Very careful handling is required, he added. Recommended management practices include:
Harvest no more than three weeks after topping.
Use the same stick spacing as with dark air cured, he says.
Any dark barn in good condition should be satisfactory for curing broadleaf, which is cut, speared and hung on tier poles like dark and burley.
Use scaffold wagons to transport broadleaf. "If you use flatbed wagons like you do for burley, you will get far too much damage."
Between 700 and 800 acres of broadleaf appear to have been planted in Kentucky and Tennessee, says Bailey. As of now, yield and quality appear good.
Price outlook: Kentucky Extension economist Will Snell has described broadleaf as a "high risk/high return" that "will fetch a higher price than burley and dark tobaccos, reportedly in the $3.50 to $5.00/lb. or higher range for top quality leaf. But that will require much more management, higher input costs and lower yield potential" than the dark types.
A report from Canada: Harvest is under way in Canada's tobacco-producing area of southern Ontario, which lies north of the north shore of Lake Erie. "There are no widespread problems reported to the Canadian Tobacco Research Foundation at this time," said a report from the organization. "Currently, aphid and hornworm pressure seem to be very limited in most fields. To date, there have been no reports this season of blue mold in Ontario."
The leader in organic leaf? North Carolina grows the most organic tobacco, with 6,391 ac-res planted in 2017. Virginia was second with 2,683 acres, followed by Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. (Source USDA-NASS).